It’s Happened Before: Putin’s scare tactics won’t work

Graphic by Aliza Kibel
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 In the 1930s, Britain was terrified of the bomber. It was thought of as the ultimate weapon: It could swoop in virtually undetected and deliver devastation of biblical proportions upon vulnerable cities, wiping them out. A massive aerial first strike, some military experts claimed, could bring Britain to its knees before it had a chance to fight back. In World War II, these ideas were put to the test. Nazi Germany, victorious in France by 1940, moved on to Britain. 

Any Nazi invasion of Britain, however, would require crossing the English Channel — guarded by the Royal Navy. To cross the channel, the Nazis first had to neutralize British air defenses: A bitter aerial war ensued, later termed the Battle for Britain, in which the embattled Royal Air Force desperately tried to stave off the German Luftwaffe. One night, however, a few German planes dropped bombs on London by mistake. The British response was swift. In a daring raid, British planes did the unthinkable: bombing Berlin. The war had, for the first time, come to Germany, despite repeated promises from Hitler that it never would.

Echoing the Berlin raid, Ukrainian forces have recently pulled off an operation that took the war to the Russian border. On Oct. 8, an explosion rocked the Kerch Strait Bridge connecting Crimea to Russia, a humiliating setback to Russia’s war effort. In response, Putin ordered massive strikes in Ukraine — the worst of the war — hitting cities as far from the front as Lviv in the country’s far west.

  These attacks, which specifically targeted civilian areas, have significant precedent in Hitler’s response to the bombing of Berlin: the Blitz, a massive campaign of civilian bombings. They were not intended to destroy Britain’s war industry but instead, by punishing civilians for Hitler’s military failings, to crush the population’s morale and force Britain to the negotiating table.

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Putin’s strikes on civilians, like all attacks of this kind, have a similar goal: to make their targeted populations tired of war by way of death and destruction. Like Hitler’s Blitz, Putin’s is aimed at sapping the morale of Ukraine’s civilian population. But, if the original Blitz was any lesson, attacks intended to harm civilian morale often produce the opposite effect. 

The British, despite facing regular German bombings, grimly carried on. This stoic determination became a source of national pride by fueling, rather than harming, their war effort. Over the last eight months, Ukrainians have displayed this same fortitude. Though countless horrors have ravaged their country, they have fought on, slowly but steadily pushing the Russians out. In August, Volodymyr Zelensky channeled his inner Churchill and declared that Ukraine “will fight to the end.” History tells us that Ukraine will make good on that promise, no matter how many Russian missiles fall upon their cities.  

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